He open his Friday Washington Post column bluntly"
In retrospect, George W. Bush’s legacy doesn’t look as bad as it did when he left office. It looks worse.He discusses several items, starting with torture, and a discussion of the Constitution Project Report and the completed but unreleased Senate Intelligence Committee report, criticizes Obama for not appointing a blue ribbon commission to examine the misdeeds of his predecessor, and concludes this section with
It may be years before all the facts are known. But the decision to commit torture looks ever more shameful with the passage of time.He then pivots to Iraq, with several important observations, noting that the profligacy in not paying for the war robbed the Republicans of their credibilty on small government and thus helped birth the tea party.
But for me, the real importance of the column is what he says about the decision to go into Iraq and the consequences for the present administration.
Robinson only devotes two paragraphs to specifically discussing this, those appearing after he notes the decision to go into Iraq extended the war in Afghanistan against the Taliban into what he calls this nation's second longest (somehow we always tend to ignore the insurrection in the Philippines after we defeated the Spanish). Here are those two paragraphs:
And it’s clear that the Bush administration did not foresee how the Iraq experience would constrain future presidents in their use of military force. Syria is a good example. Like Saddam, Bashar al-Assad is a ruthless dictator who does not hesitate to massacre his own people. But unlike Saddam, Assad does have weapons of mass destruction. And unlike Saddam, Assad has alliances with the terrorist group Hezbollah and the nuclear-mad mullahs in Iran.Let's stop for a moment. Does anyone beside me note something missing in this discussion? It has to do with military capability and alliances.
I do not advocate U.S. intervention in Syria, because I fear we might make things worse rather than better. But I wonder how I might feel — and what options Obama might have — if we had not squandered so much blood and treasure in Iraq.
Saddam's military capability had been seriously degraded as a result of the Gulf War. He had not been able to rebuild it with aid from his long-time Russian ally. He had no funds to be able to purchase from other sources, say the Chinese.
When we look at Syria, their relationship with Russia continued largely unabated, such that they have one of the world's most developed air-defense systems, which would have to be taken out to intervene in any serious fashion.
Certainly Robinson does discuss Iran, about whom we should mention that Iran has weapons from China that might well come into play, specifically Silkworm anti-ship missiles that could be used to strangle shipping in the Gulf. We do not know if they would unleash those were we taking on their Syrian allies, but that certainly has to be part of the calculation.
I was bothered when I read these two sentences: I do not advocate U.S. intervention in Syria, because I fear we might make things worse rather than better. But I wonder how I might feel — and what options Obama might have — if we had not squandered so much blood and treasure in Iraq.
All interventions have the capability of making things worse, both for the people in the country and for the surrounding region. THere were those who pointed that out clearly before we went into Ira in 2003.
In Iraq, other than Blair functioning as Bushs' lapdog, no major Western ally was arguing for us to intervene. Even despite that, we now see a very different attitude towards Syria from countries like France.
There is a precedent that is not being discussed, and it is that of the first Bush administration not intervening forcefully enough when Saddam did use chemical weapons upon his own people, or when he destroyed the Marsh Arab culture.
Here is where it perhaps becomes more troubling. The US is inconsistent on how we react to nations that slaughter their own people. On the one hand we say as did the Obama administration that the use of chemical or biological weapons represents a red line that should not be crossed, even as the use of air power and tanks against centers of CIVILIAN opposition does not seem to bring the same level of overt warning. At least, not in Syria, although it was the forces gathered to perhaps destroy Benghazi that forced the hand of the Obama administration in Libya.
To the people being attacked, as horrific as the use of a poison gas may be, so is the constant fear of artillery and airstrikes. Seeing dozens of bodies lined up after being summarily executed is also more than unnerving.
There is one other point that is not at all mentioned in Robinson's column, a critical difference, one where Libya is more like Iraq than Syria, and that is the presence of energy reserves, be they natural gas or petroleum. Syria is NOT an energy country, although its ally Iran is. We do not have behind the scenes pressure from those who see opportunities to profit, be those people American or European energy companies. And we must remember, the Bush administration was far more dominated by oil interests than is the Obama administration.
I wonder about the moral case for or against intervention, and it is here I somewhat question Robinson's reasoning. If the argument is to intervene to stop ongoing slaughter if we are capable of doing so with minimal risk, then what the Bush administration did in Iraq is irrelevant. One can make the argument against intervening in Syria on that basis alone, given the strength of their air defenses. THere is a further argument, one which is a bit more complex, and that is the fact that Israel directly borders Syria. There is the risk that Syria might seek to broaden the conflict were we to intervene, and there is always the possibility that the Israelis would act to preemptively defend themselves against possible Syrian attacks. Now, that is a complexity that did not exist in Libya.
Still, for all my criticism of that part of Robinson's reasoning, I have to agree with him that despite the events of yesterday, with other members of that exclusive club of those who have occupied the Oval Office offering praise where they could, the record of the administration of George Walker Bush has not looked better as time has passed.
That we condoned torture under the euphemism of "enhanced interrogation methods" is by itself sufficient to condemn his administration.
That the policies of the administration even beyond not paying for the wars came close to collapsing the world economic system and lead to the greatest shift of wealth to the already wealth at least since the Gilded Age is sufficient to condemn his administration.
That we abandoned long-held principles of individual rights in the name of security and unleashed without oversight intelligence activities against the American people SHOULD condemn his administration.
So having offered SOME criticism of Robinson's reasoning, let me end by agreeing strongly with the general thrust of his column. I absolutely affirm his final paragraph, which reads
As I’ve written before, Bush did an enormous amount of good by making it possible for AIDS sufferers in Africa to receive antiretroviral drug therapy. This literally saved millions of lives and should weigh heavily on one side of the scale when we assess The Decider’s presidency. But the pile on the other side just keeps getting bigger.